Concert Review: The Duke Robillard Band Rocks Aplenty at Jimmy’s

By Steve Provizer

The music of the Duke Robillard Band may go back a long way, but there was nothing retro about the bittersweet, funky, lowdown sounds that rocked Jimmy’s.

Duke Robillard, unflappable and chill, at Jimmy’s. Photo: Steve Provizer

Guitarist-vocalist Duke Robillard has covered a lot of ground since 1967, when he co-founded the group Roomful of Blues in Rhode Island. After 10 years with Roomful, he moved on to accompany singer Robert Gordon and then became a member of the Legendary Blues Band. He started the Duke Robillard Band in 1981, which became Duke Robillard and the Pleasure Kings. In 1990, he replaced Jimmie Ray Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He’s played in jazz guitar groups with Herb Ellis and with Gerry Beaudoin and Jay Geils.

Robillard and his posse are keepers of the flame. They play slow and jump blues, rhythm and blues, and soul music, turning any venue they play into a roadhouse-honky-tonk-blues dive; even a classy joint like Jimmy’s in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I was there on May 21 when they did it.

Robillard’s band at Jimmy’s included Chris Cote (vocal, guitar), Doug James (tenor, baritone saxes), Mark Earley (tenor sax) Bruce Bears (organ, electric piano), Mark Texiera (drums) and Mudcat Ward (bass). All are well traveled, with the chops to take on a varied set list that included “You Don’t Love Me,” Won’t You Take a Chance With Me,” “Fools Are Getting Scarcer Every Day,” “Holy Smoke,” “You Were Wrong,” “Lonesome Train,” and for an encore, Little Richard’s “Lucille.”

Robillard, unflappable and chill in a Hawaiian shirt, handled his vocals with an unrushed yet invested style, which also describes his guitar playing. He understands dynamics and how to build a solo; even though he knows a lot of notes, he has the good sense and musicianship to choose the tasty ones. Highlights were his solos on Freddie King’s “Someday, After Awhile,” Ike Turner’s “Do You Mean it,” and B.B. King’s “3 O’Clock Blues.”

Doug James and Mark Earley on saxes did their job with backing lines and soloed well, building up an especially good head of steam trading 4’s and 8’s on “I Can’t Understand.” Bruce Bears had a bit of an uphill struggle making an electronic keyboard fit the groove, but when he moved to Hammond organ, the rhythm section hit hard.

Vocalist Chris Cote is made for the job. His voice can handle the pressure — from top to bottom — and his persona as the man who’s seen it all but can still feel the pain translates across the footlights.

The music of the Duke Robillard Band may go back a long way, but there was nothing retro about the bittersweet, funky, lowdown sounds that rocked Jimmy’s.

Steve Provizer writes on a range of subjects, most often the arts. He is a musician and blogs about jazz here.


  1. Gerard Roy on May 27, 2023 at 6:02 pm

    Nice review, Steve. Great concert. G

  2. Tobi Klein on May 28, 2023 at 6:44 am

    Having been there, as well, I can only say yes, yes, and yes to all of your observations. I especially like your spot on description of Chris Cody. Great music and a very fun time!

    • Jay Hackett on May 28, 2023 at 1:13 pm

      Damn, missed 2 of the Duke’s shows due to medical issues…..the Duke is King….long live the King.

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